1. Tony Boy Escalante
Chef and restaurateur
“Never follow the crowd,” Antonio “Tony Boy” Escalante advises aspiring restaurateurs. In his case, however, the crowd follows him, all the way to Tagaytay, from far and wide, such as this wedding party of 80 who once flew in from Singapore. Originally from the southern capital of Bacolod, the former flight attendant settled in this equally bucolic but cool and hilly place around two hours away from Manila.
Here he put up a farm supplying organic vegetables to high-end restaurants. With this business in place, he left for a year and a half to train at the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Institute in Adelaide, Australia. When he came back, he joined the old Mandarin Oriental and trained under the esteemed chef Norbert Gandler.
Back in Tagaytay, Escalante began doing “private dining” for friends and friends of friends who would enjoy both food and the ambience.
By word-of-mouth, he says, people became aware of this farmer chef who specialised in farm-to-table dishes. In 2002 he opened Antonio’s, which he calls his big break. “The minute my doors opened, my dream turned into reality,” he says.
He also opened a second restaurant, this time for casual dining and called it Balay Dako.
Soon enough, his reality grabbed global attention. He has been on many a prestigious list including The Miele Guide, Asia’s Best Restaurants and 25 Chefs and Restaurateurs You Should Know. He also received the 2014 World Gourmet Summit Manitowoc Restaurateur of the Year from the World Gourmet Summit.
What keeps Escalante excited these days are his new ventures, one already ongoing and two soon to be launched. Ongoing is his AGR Online Deli, fast-tracked because of the 2020 eruption of Taal Volcano. Still in the works are retail stores in Manila and a homemade ice cream line. “I guess you can say that we are working with what we have in more creative ways, as we wait for the pandemic to end,” Escalante remarks.
More dreams are unfolding. And everything possible, Escalante believes, because of his loyal staff driven to ensure excellence.